The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) has engaged e-commerce companies in Japan to improve monitoring of online ivory sales to prevent infringements of domestic regulations, such as inadequate registration of business activities on their websites and illegal shipping of ivory items abroad.
The moves to tighten up the domestic ivory market came after TRAFFIC conducted a study reviewing the state of Japan’s online ivory trade in 2014.
TRAFFIC’s study, A review of online ivory trade in Japan (PDF, 1.5 MB), examined the country’s major e-commerce platforms including Rakuten-Ichiba, the largest Japanese online shopping mall, the two largest Japanese internet auction sites: Yahoo Auction and Rakuten Auction and a number of websites purchasing antique and other ivory items.
The study’s analysis helped characterize the patterns of online ivory sales and assessed online content to reveal enforcement weak spots in terms of domestic trade regulation.
Items found for sale by TRAFFIC included hanko signature seals, jewelry, incense burners, stationery items, smoking accessories, religious artifacts, musical instruments and kitchen utensils.
Although much reduced since the 1980s, a legal market for ivory exists in Japan, both of antique items and ivory sold to the country during the two “one-off” ivory sales permitted by the Convention in International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), in 1998 and 2008 as well as older stocks that were imported before the 1989 trade ban.
However, TRAFFIC found that at least 57 businesses were dealing in ivory without notifications to METI, a mandatory requirement under the Law for the Conservation of Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (LCES).
They included 39 (out of 107) retail sites on Rakuten-Ichiba, 10 (out of 19) on Yahoo Auction, and eight (out of 42) on the ivory purchasing websites.
Several websites appeared to be unaware of or ignoring regulations under CITES, which prohibits the export of ivory without permits.
More than 10% of the advertisements on Rakuten-Ichiba and Yahoo Auction indicated a possibility of overseas shipping.
“As a country still with a significant domestic ivory industry, much vigilance is needed to prevent any illegal ivory from flowing through the markets here and to prevent any link to the current global demand for ivory,” said Tomomi Matsumoto, TRAFFIC’s Programme Officer in Japan. “Japan must remain a closed domestic system.”
From an Internet user’s perspective, TRAFFIC found it was often difficult to distinguish legal from illegal ivory sales outlets, with rules under LCES neither making it explicit that businesses must show their notification status nor disclosing the list of notified businesses to the public.
In October 2014, METI and the Ministry of the Environment (MOE) established a liaison committee to begin discussions on measures to improve domestic ivory control. To date, the government has approached major e-commerce companies to ask for their co-operation, while several awareness-raising and communication projects have been launched. On 3rd March 2014, World Wildlife Day, an event was held to highlight the rules for online trading of wildlife to businesses.
Along with such initiatives, Rakuten, Inc. has started monitoring activities on its website, while Yahoo Japan, Corp. is also preparing to implement new measures.
“TRAFFIC warmly welcomes the moves by METI, the MOE and the e-commerce companies to clarify online ivory retailing operations in Japan and help ensure those shopping online can do so with confidence they are not breaking any legislation,” said Tomomi Matsumoto.